The Science Behind Growth Factors: Exploring Their Sources, Penetration, and Safety

26 November 2023

Understanding the Different Sources and Applications of Growth Factors in Skincare

Growth factors have gained significant attention in the skincare industry for their potential to improve skin appearance and promote rejuvenation. These proteins, obtained from various sources, are believed to stimulate cell growth, collagen production, and wound healing. However, there are still questions surrounding their efficacy, safety, and the mechanisms by which they penetrate the skin barrier. In this article, we delve into the world of growth factors, exploring their sources, penetration-enhancing techniques, and safety considerations.

Obtaining Growth Factors from Cell Cultures

The oldest method of obtaining growth factors involves culturing fibroblasts from newborns’ foreskins or first-trimester human fetuses. These fibroblasts are grown in a petri dish until they reach confluence, and the spent media containing growth factors, cytokines, and soluble proteins are collected. However, the exact composition of these growth factors may vary between batches, making it difficult to standardize their effects.

The Rise of Donor Tissue as a Source

A newer approach involves obtaining growth factors from donor tissue. A small biopsy is taken from the patient and frozen for shipment to a biobank. The fibroblasts from this tissue are cultured, and the spent media, rich in autologous growth factors, is collected. This method provides a personalized source of growth factors, potentially enhancing their biological activity due to their compatibility with the donor’s receptors.

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) as a Source of Autologous Growth Factors

Another method of obtaining autologous growth factors is through platelet-rich plasma (PRP). A patient’s blood is drawn and double-spun to isolate the platelet-rich fraction, which contains growth factors such as platelet-derived growth factor, epidermal growth factor, and vascular endothelial growth factor. PRP is believed to have enhanced biological activity due to its autologous nature.

Enhancing Penetration with Microneedling and Liposomes

Topical application of growth factors faces challenges due to their large size, which prevents them from penetrating the skin barrier. To overcome this, growth factors are often used in conjunction with microneedling, which creates tiny punctures in the skin, allowing for better absorption. Additionally, some manufacturers incorporate growth factors into liposomes, which facilitate their passage through the skin layers, potentially increasing their physiological activity.

Safety Concerns and the Promotion of Premalignant Cells

One of the main safety concerns surrounding growth factors is their potential to promote the growth of premalignant and malignant cells. However, despite millions of units of growth factor-containing cosmeceuticals being sold, there is no evidence of an increase in actinic keratoses or squamous cell carcinomas. Nevertheless, the safety of growth factors remains an important consideration.

Assessing the Efficacy of Growth Factors

Evaluating the efficacy of growth factors in cosmeceuticals can be challenging. It is difficult to separate the effects of the growth factors themselves from the effects of the moisturizing vehicle in which they are formulated. The vehicle may contain ingredients that provide various skin benefits, making it challenging to attribute specific effects solely to the growth factors. Expert graders often rely on subjective assessments, making it challenging to differentiate between vehicle-attributed and growth factor-attributed effects.


Growth factors hold promise in skincare for their potential to improve skin appearance and promote rejuvenation. However, questions remain regarding their efficacy, safety, and the mechanisms by which they penetrate the skin barrier. Further research is needed to understand the optimal sources, delivery methods, and long-term effects of growth factors. As the skincare industry continues to explore the potential of these proteins, it is crucial to strike a balance between innovation and ensuring consumer safety.

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